On Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh once again proved that he's unafraid to ask questions the rest of us avoid because the blood vessels to our brains aren't occluded by hog fat and Macanudos. On his radio show, he speculated: "What if Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaida leaders gave up Osama bin Laden for the express purpose of making Obama look good?" He then followed up, "Do you think that militant Islamists will be as hopeful of getting rid of Israel with a Republican president or with a Democrat president?"
It's been a glorious week for Republican xenophobic concern trolling. Mitt Romney echoed himself echoing his book by condemning Barack Obama's "[sympathy] with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt" and his "apology for American principles." (Buy No Apology for Kindle for just $9.99!) Gosh, between Limbaugh and Romney, you might get the sense that we have every reason to believe that the president is not one of Us.
Unfortunately for Romney, his attack was so shameless that the media almost universally condemned it, while the oily "othering" impulse behind it was called out almost instantly. Limbaugh, on the other hand, managed to insinuate even nastier ideas with far more efficiency and aplomb.
Rush pushes a lot of damning false narratives with thought experiments only slightly less preposterous than a school kid saying, "Yeah, but what if water were lava?" (That kid's name was Harry Truman, and he singlehandedly invented the atomic bomb in his workshop.) His question about whether Al Qaida slavers over a defenseless Israel with a Democrat in the White House makes sense only until you remember that Democrats and Republicans differ on Israel about as substantively as Coke and Pepsi differ on the subject of bombing out your teeth and waistline with sugary filth.
As Neetzan Zimmerman pointed out, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak himself repudiated the "Obama hates Israel" line, saying, "This administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past." And if taking some lousy foreigner's word for it isn't good enough for Rush, he can look at Obama's support for an Israeli missile defense system, or Obama's selling Israel the bunker busters that George W. Bush denied them. Or, failing that, he can cast his mind back to the halcyon days when freedom was truly reborn upon the earth and note that Reagan was the most anti-Israel president in the last 30 years and far more overtly critical than Carter. There's a red light beeping on the history phone, and you can pick it up; it's just Ronald Reagan saying to Rush, "That was a clown question, bro."
Rush's first question is even worse, because it shows that he and everyone else on the right still do not get al-Qaida. For people consumed with paranoia that these Islamists are EVEN RIGHT NOW perpetrating the most diabolical unseen conspiracies against America, Rush and his bozo coterie like to treat al-Qaida communications with 100% literal acceptance, while interpreting their actions with 100% suspicion.
Al-Qaida: "Take them at their word, but distrust what your eyes tell you."
During the 2004 election, when Osama bin Laden's "October surprise" speech demanded that the United States change its ways, Limbaugh and company rushed to claim that bin Laden was expressly endorsing John Kerry. Because that makes sense. As citizens, we're just so folksy and accommodating that our first impulse is to do whatever anyone asks. Pourin' another glass of lemonade on the porch for a parched stranger and votin' the same way as that fella what barbecued 3,000 people is just what good folk do.
The ugly fact about bin Laden that Limbaugh and his ilk ignore—either out of pig ignorance or thug disingenuousness—is that bin Laden never held any illusions about his group's actual operational strength. His goal, as he articulated to Robert Fisk, from a mountain shelter in Afghanistan, was to induce the United States to break its own back in its paroxysms of rage, to bleed its treasury white while its incredible fury induced the resentment and loathing of the entire Arab world. "From this mountain, Mr. Robert, upon which you are sitting," he said, "we beat the Russian army and helped break the Soviet Union. And I pray to God that he allows us to turn America into a shadow of itself."
The easiest way to make sure that America kept doing big, dumb, expensive and violently overreactive shit in the Arab world was to let it keep electing George W. Bush. Don't change horses in midstream! And the easiest way to poison any movement to change that policy was to have America's Public Enemy #1 say, "That other guy—I like him. He's got the right idea."
So when Limbaugh asks something like, "What if Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaida leaders gave up Osama bin Laden for the express purpose of making Obama look good?" the only proper response is a fit of outraged questions as relentless as Apu's disgust with Billy and the Cloneasaurus. Bin Laden's assertions are to be read literally, but it's actual facts like his death where black must be white. An organization already reeling from multiple successful assassinations of its leadership would only stand to benefit from having its phantom leader and most indelible jeering symbol wiped off the earth. Meanwhile, a group whose prime recruiting tools were (according to the Rumsfeld Defense Department) American troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and America's one-sided support for Israel, could only stand to gain from reelecting the dude who withdrew troops from Iraq, plans to withdraw them from Afghanistan, refused to put boots on the ground in Libya and occasionally finger-wags at Benjamin Netanyahu. OKAY, SOUNDS GOOD.
(And yes, it's certainly possible that Al Qaida looks at drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, etc., and yearns for more of Obama. He's currently their #1 attraction in Yemen. But Limbaugh neither means this nor is capable of apprehending it. The very idea that this might be their operating policy would mean upending his entire broken worldview and impeaching everything he's believed for 11 years.)
It's a mistake to think that any of this is chess. (Bin Laden couldn't play it with Limbaugh types in 2004, instead relying on a game so reflexively dumb that it might as well have been called, "Nuh-uh.") There is no real foreign or military policy comment here, no deep insinuation about our future wars or attitudes. Al-Qaida itself isn't even relevant. What Limbaugh is saying is that, whatever Al-Qaida is, Obama is part of it. Maybe not voluntarily or by overt deed, but by being the dog wagged by its tail.
If Romney's own statements weren't clumsy enough, stuff like this from Limbaugh makes them feel like a walking Clouseau-esque catastrophe of religious and xenophobic smearing. Romney just throws the idea out there so baldly: Hey, he's saying, the president's sympathies are with the terrorists, and he apologizes for America. He's not from here. And if that's not obvious enough, there's Romney's immigration advisor and Eliminationist in Chief, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who's mulling taking Obama off the ballots in Kansas, because, well, that birth certificate still seems fishy.
Compared to that, Limbaugh's a master. He knows questions are just as powerful as assertions, while enjoying the cover of "idle speculation." He knows that, for four years, nobody on the right has gone broke by whispering "Muslim" next to "President." With one lazy afternoon daydream, he planted the suggestion that Al-Qaida destroyed bin Laden to put Obama in his place. It just stands to reason, come to think of it. They had no need of their leader when Obama would lead them by his own ignorance—a Manchurian Candidate so thoroughly inept that he did not even necessitate brainwashing.
[Image by Jim Cooke/Photos from Getty]